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THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES (continued)
Could there be a connection between Hemingway's suitcase and Santiago's marlin? The marlin was "a fish to keep a man all winter." It's another interesting speculation based on the premise that all writing is at least partially autobiographical.
Yet success came shortly afterward. In 1925 a book of short stories entitled In Our Time was published; in 1926, a novel, The Sun Also Rises; in 1928 another story collection, Men Without Women. All of these books were well received by the critics and by the public.
There were exceptions. Hemingway's parents found their son's writing distasteful, even shocking. Hemingway's characters were not always genteel people with polite speech habits. Dr. and Mrs. Hemingway found this offensive and even returned their copies of In Our Time to the publisher. And 1927 saw Hemingway's divorce from Hadley, an action which further outraged his parents. His life became, for a while, a rather bumpy ride between positive and negative, fortune and reversal. There was a happy wedding to Pauline Pfeiffer later in 1927 and in 1928 a warm reconciliation with his family. But in December of 1928, Hemingway's father gave in to a period of growing depression and shot himself with a revolver.
"Just when you have it, you lose it." "Life is a mixed bag." You've probably heard statements like these. It's certainly not difficult to see these themes in The Old Man and the Sea. Santiago's mixed bag of triumph and tragedy certainly has a precedent in the life of Hemingway, his creator.
Hemingway moved to Key West, Florida, poured himself into writing, and a year later produced A Farewell to Arms, a novel which raised him to the very peak of literary and financial success at the age of thirty-gratifying to a writer who began his career collecting rejection slips.
Hemingway filled the next several years satisfying his desire for broader and deeper experiences. He reveled in deep-sea fishing off the Florida Keys, he hunted big game in Wyoming. In the summer of 1933 he undertook an African safari but contracted amoebic dysentery on the way.
So, like Santiago, he played out his great adventure weak and hurting. Others told him to go back, postpone the hunt, wait until he recovered. Hemingway said no. In terms of game, the safari was successful. In spite of his condition, he shot and dropped a charging Cape buffalo a few feet before the enraged animal would have killed him.
A few feet closer, a few seconds later, and there would have been no old man, Santiago. But Hemingway's whole life and outlook suggest that, if he had known in advance of this deadly possibility, he would have embraced it even more enthusiastically, just as Santiago certainly knew there was great danger in going far out beyond the normal fishing waters.
Hemingway's fascination with war occupied him again from 1936 to 1938 in Spain. This is a strange side of his life. He absolutely loved being in a war; the closer to the most heated action, the better. Then, when it was over, he would write about the futility and horror of war.
He covered the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent, following the Loyalist infantry into the fiercest battles. He was thoroughly depressed when they were finally defeated by the Franco forces.
From this experience came For Whom the Bell Tolls, in 1940. Paramount Pictures bought the film rights for $150,000- an astronomical figure in the early 40s. Hemingway was now in a position to call his own shots; he sold the film rights only after Paramount agreed to his insistence that Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman play the lead roles.
The second marriage had ended in divorce in 1938. In 1941 he married Martha Gellhorn. They lived on an estate outside Havana, Cuba, surrounded by luxuries. Nearby was a small fishing village.
World War II, as other wars before it, captivated Hemingway. Again deciding to be a correspondent, he became chief of Collier's European bureau. He accompanied the Royal Air Force on several bombing raids over occupied France; he crossed the English Channel with American troops on June 6, 1944. Again he was in the thick of fighting in Belgium and Germany, sending back stirring accounts of the battlefield.
In 1945 his third marriage broke up; in 1946 his fourth, and lasting, marriage to Mary Welsh began. They resettled at the estate outside Havana, where Hemingway was now an international celebrity.
But again, "Just when you have it..." 1950 brought professional disaster, at least in terms of critical opinion. His book Across the River and Into the Trees received biting, almost vicious reviews. Ernest Hemingway appeared to be washed up as a writer.
Then in 1952 came The Old Man and the Sea. And the Pulitzer. And the Nobel. It was his last major work published while he was still alive. (Two books, A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream, have been published since his death.)
And in 1961 came the end of it all-by his own hand. His health had been deteriorating. Nothing, including visits to the famous Mayo Clinic, seemed able to return him to the masculine vigor he so enjoyed. Did he decide that if he could not "do it all" he would prefer to do nothing?
In any case, his great adventure with life and literature was ended, by his own choosing. And here we have a definite difference between the conclusion of The Old Man and the Sea and the conclusion of Hemingway's own life.
Santiago is weak and hurting. He is perhaps sicker than he knows. But he and Manolin make plans to fish together again, to undertake perhaps another attempt to bring back the big one.
Hemingway himself chose not to.